Mr. Speaker, in Bill C-27, you will understand that, at this stage of the debate, the government is already aware of the position of the Bloc Quebecois.
In this bill, I think the Bloc Quebecois has already, on a number of occasions, distinguished itself in the debate concerning amendments to certain provisions of the Criminal Code to protect, among others, children and young women who, in certain situations, were subjected to certain painful practices. We have tried on many occasions to have this debated in the House and in committee.
Today, accordingly, Bill C-27 addresses a number of issues, including female genital mutilation, criminal harassment, child sex tourism, testimony by children, prostitution and procuring. It goes without saying that the Bloc Quebecois supports the government's approach on all these issues.
I would like to remind the government that the Bloc Quebecois member for Québec has worked, I think, extremely hard to advance the debate and, to a certain extent I would say, to persuade the government to take the direction it did with Bill C-27. I will just mention her private member's bills: Bill C-246, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to the sexual exploitation of children
outside Canada, and Bill C-235, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding the genital mutilation of female persons.
As a result of these two bills, of questions in the House and the pressure by the entire Bloc Quebecois-since the entire caucus supported the hon. member for Québec in this-the government decided to act and to introduce the bill we now know as C-27.
Given its origins, you will understand that the opposition is in favour of bill C-27. The opposition has always been in favour of bills which advanced the debate, which were aimed at remedying situations and shortcomings, and Bill C-27 is one such bill.
As I was saying, then, Bill C-27 addresses a number of aspects, including sex tourism. Given the stage we have reached, I will go over it component by component, with comments and a list of certain things we would have liked to have found in the bill, but unfortunately do not. The Bloc Quebecois will, no doubt, manage to get the government to give in, as it has this time with this bill, with a future amendment to the Criminal Code, or in another Parliament.
Now, when referring to sex tourism, we must understand the context. Everyone will agree with me when I say that the exploitation and victimization of children for purposes of sexual gratification is odious, but does unfortunately exist. This is not something much seen in Canada, but it does unfortunately exist in the third world, in the Asian countries. Poor and disadvantaged children in the developing countries are sometimes abused sexually by tourists from Canada and from Quebec.
In the name of profit, children are kidnapped, beaten, humiliated, and exposed to all manner of diseases, some of them fatal. If we were to do nothing about this, I believe we would be indirectly contributing to this universal scourge.
If this type of sex tourism exists, however, it is because there are people interested in it. We are speaking of people who are usually well-off, who come from the rich countries, the Canadians, the Germans, the Italians and the French. We had to set an example, and Canada has already done so on a number of occasions, no doubt because of the history of this country and its international image developed over the years. We have always set examples in certain areas of activity, and here again we are showing the world how far ahead we are. I am particularly pleased that this idea originated with a member from Quebec.
So, we have financially well-off tourists paying for trips to exotic countries solely for the purpose of purchasing the sexual services of children. I do not think anyone in Quebec or in Canada is prepared to tolerate that. It is a situation we must do something about, everyone agrees. But there are limitations, and I understand that. We had to find a way to structure this bill so as to overcome these obstacles. I think we managed to meet our objective, to some extent.
Why do these people, these customers who are financially well off, go outside the country? Because in Canada it is a criminal offence. They argue that they have so much love to give and want to give it to children in third world, to other people. And they argue-I heard all kinds of things when I was looking into this-that their love was shared, that it was mutual.
People also told us there were cultural differences, that some things that were not allowed in Canada were allowed in other countries. There are all kinds of misconceptions here that should be cleared up, and we must tell these people, who may be quite sincere, that what they do is wrong. Their arguments do not hold water, because according to the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, a child's right to security, health and life is sacred, whether you are in Asia, France, Italy, Canada or Quebec.
The problem was that we needed to send a clear message, and I think we were successful. By passing this bill, the House of Commons will send the message that these are serious offences. This was the context that led us to consider passing legislation to deal with this. We know the typical customer, and we also know the explanations they give, and all this had to be reflected in this bill.
Because of the subject matter, this bill was not easy to discuss in committee. I realized that as I listened to testimony and put questions to witnesses. These are rather delicate matters involving a great many concerns, including cultural differences, because Bill C-27 deals with various sexual aspects of the lives of certain people.
This bill confers a measure of extraterritoriality on the Criminal Code. The authorities can prosecute a Canadian national abroad. The Bloc agrees with that; in fact, our members would have liked to go a little further in this respect. Unfortunately, the amendments we proposed in the House of Commons and in committee were not passed. However, what is already proposed in Bill C-27 regarding the law's extraterritoriality is already a step forward, because there was nothing like this before. So we say congratulations. Bravo. We have understood part of it. We would have liked it to go further, to be more detailed, but it is a step forward, and we willingly support a bill that has an impact in this area.
There is another extremely important element, that which concerns excision or female genital mutilation. Here again, the Bloc tabled a bill in 1994 to prohibit genital mutilation. Because it is
important to see the work the Bloc has done in this matter, it is worth pointing out that, on a number of occasions in 1994 and 1995, the member for Quebec City, who was particularly interested in this, asked the Minister of Justice some questions. At the time, the Minister of Justice said we did not need a special section in the Criminal Code, since it already covered this sort of mutilation. Everything was covered in the Criminal Code. There was no need for change, etc.
The minister is dishing up much the same sort of thing now regarding biker legislation: "Everything is in the Criminal Code. There is no problem. Everything is there. The tools are there for the police". So, you will understand that we might have some reservations. This would not be the first time the minister has done an about-face on an issue because of the pressure the Bloc Quebecois exerts and will continue to exert. We exerted pressure in the case of genital mutilation and we are doing it in the case of biker legislation and on other issues as well. We will continue to ask the right questions, to do the right thing for the security of Quebecers and of Canadians as well, because the amendments we are seeking to the Criminal Code will benefit Canada as well as Quebec. It will all perhaps be part of the future partnership of Quebec and Canada, very soon to come about, I am sure.
Next is genital mutilation. With respect to Bill C-27, I am very pleased that my colleague, the government member, mentioned very clearly during his speech that it was impossible to consent to excision in Canada. You will recall that, during first and second reading of this bill, a person 18 years of age could consent to genital mutilation. This showed a great lack of knowledge of the practice, because it is not carried out by Quebecers and Canadians but primarily by people whose culture is somewhat different from that of Canada. It is easy to put pressure on a young woman of 18 years and one day, when she comes of age, and to say to her: "If you want your husband to love you, you must have this done".
We therefore struggled in committee, and I must say it was quite a battle, to have the Criminal Code recognize that a person could not consent to this practice, whether she was 5, 10, 15, 20, 35 or however many years old, without being charged under the Criminal Code.
But we also emphasized, and I think this will perhaps be up to those who administer justice and enforce the law, that cultural groups who have this kind of practice in their country must be educated and given information.
There are penalties in place and I think this is a very important step for Quebecers and for Canadians. Naturally, there are some weaknesses. We would have liked to see certain provisions in the bill, including one that very clearly makes it a new offence in the Criminal Code, to have it singled out in order to draw it to the public's attention. We would also have liked to see genital mutilation considered aggravated assault and clearly indicated as such in the bill, but it is not.
In addition, there are various interpretations of the procedure itself. Do we allow excision when performed by qualified doctors and so on, for medical reasons? I think some things could have been spelled out more clearly, given the importance of the issue. Unfortunately, the minister was unwilling to bend on this point. I understand that, since he had just given in on a major element in his bill where consent is concerned, he was not going to do so with the whole list of Bloc demands made in connection with this bill. At any rate, we do support Bill C-27, because it represents a step forward.
Naturally, where criminal harassment is concerned, the Bloc is totally in agreement there too. This is putting some teeth into what is already in place. The Criminal Code contained certain provisions about criminal harassment, but the sentence was so minimal that, to all intents and purposes, they were hardly ever enforced.
You will readily understand, then, and I will conclude with this, that the government had the entire co-operation of the Bloc Quebecois on Bill C-27 in order to make the bill the most applicable, the most in line with what we are experiencing in Canada, and particularly the most stringent in order to protect those we wish to protect, that is to say, children, young women and all those who suffer directly or indirectly from the scourge of sex tourism, excision or any other offence of a sexual nature.
We support Bill C-27, which was introduced by the government and which is, to all intents and purposes, virtually a carbon copy of the private member's bills we in the Bloc Quebecois tabled in the past.